Tackling a Land Rover Experience day with the all-new Range Rover
The first time Pocket-lint jumped into the new fourth-generation Range Rover was in Morocco. The weather was hot, the terrain soft and fast, but the relevance to a UK driver virtually nil. While it showed us what the "all-new" Range Rover could achieve, what about in the UK, in the winter, in the snow, at the Land Rover Experience headquarters in Eastnor Castle?
There are eight Land Rover Experience centres around the UK and the main one, used by Jaguar Land Rover itself, is based in the Cotswolds. It's where they tested the 2013 Range Rover - handy, considering there are miles and miles of managed track. When we say tested, we really mean it: over 300 prototypes and thousands of man hours all to help the new Range Rover to get to this moment.
Getting to the centre is almost as much fun as driving in the grounds, with the Cotswold countryside offering plenty to enjoy from the Range Rover's spacious cockpit. Across the course of the day we tested the 3.0 TDV V6 entry-level model (£71,000) and the 4.4 TDV V8 Autobiography (£94,695) with adaptive roll technology to stop it moving around as much - it works.
We started our day at Chipping Campden in the beautiful Cotswold hills. The snow was thick, the roads icy. Of course the Range Rover laughed in the face of that adversity. Understandably so, because of a new feature added to the Range Rover: Auto Terrain.
The auto feature accounts for the fact that, although given the choice of terrain setting to use, drivers normally forget until it's too late, or don't know whether they should be in snow mode or not. The Range Rover now does it for you automatically by monitoring the road every couple of milliseconds. Think of the auto scene mode on your camera and you get the right idea. It goes about making the drive as easy and as safe as possible.
Of course some will say that takes away all the fun, but in reality it meant that we didn't have any problems regardless of what terrain we encountered.
At Land Rover Experience the weather, the challenge you want and a number of other factors determine which tracks are available, and which tracks you'll use. It's not as simple as saying I'd like to do my usual please. Tracks range in scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being the hardest and that involves having to use winches.
"We could have put you on that course," explained one of the instructors, "but it's not very much fun and you would have only got around 100 yards."
That's great if you are using the centre for training for your next global road challenge - something many do - but for the majority of the centre's visitors having some fun and seeing what their new Land Rover or Range Rover can do off road is the main goal.
As it was we were taken out for a spin on a grade five track that gave us enough of a challenge, but not enough to make us really worry about what we were about to do. That's not to say there weren't a couple of moments where we wondered whether the Range Rover would make it, but raised suspension, low-level gear ratio setting for downhill descents, and the willingness to just "trust" the vehicle, meant we fared better than we expected along the treacherous single-lane track.
If that paints a gruelling picture, don't worry, it's a lot better than it sounds, mainly because of the sheer luxury of the ride that the Range Rover offers. Heated or chilled seats, a heated steering wheel, a fridge in the arm rest, massage options and individual climate control per passenger (front and back) meant it was hard to appreciate the harsh environment that we were driving in until we opened the window. We did; it was cold.
The Land Rover Experience Centre offers a number of packages to suit most, with prices starting from £200 for a morning to a lot more if you want to really push the boat out, and you don't have to use your own shiny new 4x4 if you don't want to. If you're lucky, you might even be able to haggle a day's pass when you buy your new car.
On the track on our day the snow and ice certainly added an extra dimension to the exercise that many probably won't get to experience. Setting off in convoy, you are accompanied in the car by a voice on a walkie-talkie, rather than an instructor taking over the wheel. That means you're in total control of the driving whether you like it or not.
It's all par for the course and certainly gives you the chance to gawp at what the car in front has just done without feeling embarrassed. In the case of Pocket-lint there were certainly plenty of times, albeit while we were busy playing with the numerous toys on our kitted-out car, that we weren't sure we were going to make the next stage. We did of course, and some of it in the dark with headlights blazing.
As for the new Range Rover, it copes very well, not only getting you to the venue, but also out on the rough stuff. The V6 and the V8 were both incredibly responsive from a performance perspective and an incredibly luxurious ride too.
We especially like new features like the auto closing doors if you fail to close them properly - think expensive kitchen cupboards - and in the business class rear configuration the central console that runs right through the centre of the car. You do have to sacrifice a seat for this feature, however.
As with previous Range Rover models the ride is very high, allowing you to enjoy that commanding position Range Rover is famous for, while the cockpit has been further insulated to give you an almost silent ride.
On the tech side of things, you'll get a digital dash that changes depending on what is going on, and there are enough buttons (although less than the third generation) to make a BlackBerry Qwerty keyboard look simple.
As with other models in the JLR line, entertainment is provided by a dual-screen touchscreen display in the centre of the dashboard. So the passenger can watch the Jeremy Kyle Show, listening on the accompanying Bluetooth headphones, while the driver follows the satnav. There is the option for further screens in the headrests with their own headsets too for the rear passengers.
The boot is spacious while the tailgate boot door split has been changed to give you a lower entry point - current Range Rover customers don't panic, it's still good for standing on, or having somewhere to put that picnic.
As a day out, the Land Rover Experience is great fun giving you a chance to see what your car can really do. You might never venture off the roads with your Range Rover, but it's perfectly happy if you do.
As we discovered in Morocco, the Range Rover really is top of its class, as long as you've not only got the cash to enjoy it, but also the patience to wait. While the first cars will start rolling off the production line in the next couple of weeks, if you order a new one there is currently a nine-month waiting list.
We will be bringing you a full Range Rover review in the near future.